Proprietor’s wildlife photos

December 16, 2019 • 8:00 am

It’s time to go back to Patagonia, as I hadn’t discovered how to post downsized photos when we visited Torres del Paine National Park. This was an optional excursion on the boat, but I simply had to pay some dosh to see it, for when I was younger I’d been enthralled by Galen Rowell’s photos of the  Cordillera del Paine, a majestic group of mountains in the park.  And, sure enough, it was everything I expected, and more.  First, here’s where the park is located in Patagonia (the green area):

And a few words about the park from Wikipedia:

Torres del Paine National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Torres del Paine) is a national park encompassing mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers in southern Chilean Patagonia. The Cordillera del Paine is the centerpiece of the park. It lies in a transition area between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes. The park is located 112 km (70 mi) north of Puerto Natales and 312 km (194 mi) north of Punta Arenas. The park borders Bernardo O’Higgins National Park to the west and the Los Glaciares National Park to the north in Argentine territory. Paine means “blue” in the native Tehuelche (Aonikenk) language and is pronounced PIE-nay.

Torres del Paine National Park is part of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado de Chile (National System of Protected Forested Areas of Chile). In 2013, it measured approximately 181,414 hectares. It is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile. The park averages around 252,000 visitors a year, of which 54% are foreign tourists, who come from many countries all over the world. It is also part of the End of the World Route, a tourist scenic route.

. . . The Torres del Paine are the distinctive three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range or Paine Massif. From left to right they are known as Torres d’Agostini, Torres Central and Torres Monzino. They extend up to 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) above sea level, and are joined by the Cuernos del Paine. The area also boasts valleys, rivers such as the Paine, lakes, and glaciers. The well-known lakes include Grey, Pehoé, Nordenskiöld, and Sarmiento. The glaciers, including Grey, Pingo and Tyndall, belong to the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.

We took a bus from Puerto Natales, which took about two hours each way given the condition of the roads (dirt). One of the things I wanted to see in the park was an Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), which I thought was the largest bird in the world by wingspan. It turns out they’re not, but they still hold a record:

 The Andean condor is the largest flying bird in the world by combined measurement of weight and wingspan. It has a maximum wingspan of 3.3 m (10 ft 10 in) exceeded only by the wingspans of four seabirds and water birds—the roughly 3.5 m (11 ft 6 in) maximum of the wandering albatross, southern royal albatross, great white pelican and Dalmatian pelican.

Now I don’t know what index they use to combine weight and wingspan, but I still wanted it on my life list, and they’re not that easy to see. But as soon as we made our first stop, at a viewpoint, a single one was gliding above.  It was hard to photograph, being far away and soaring quickly, so here’s the best I can do, but it’s still proof. (We saw no others that day.)

And here’s a better view from Wikipedia:

But of course the centerpiece was the Cordillera del Paine—about as scenic as mountains get. They change their appearance with every shift in cloud or light, and rise up above the park in a mesmerizing way. But only photos can show that, so here are some. First, a distant view of the mountains (they are in the Andes):

There’s a glacial-fed river debouching from the mountain:

A nearby waterfall:

Some vegetation (perhaps readers will recognize it):

Reader Paul, one of the denizens here who happened to be on our trip, photographing the local flowers (at least I think they’re local):

On the way back to the ship, we saw many guanacos, whose name (Lama guanicoe) tells you they’re related to llamas. The species is in the family Camelidae, and the beasts are lovely and graceful. It was hard to photograph them as they’re shy (they were hunted), run fast (and can leap a six-foot fence with ease), and we were on a moving bus. So here’s the best I can do: a running guanaco, with me panning the camera to follow it.   (Paul also saw a cougar, but we have no pictures.)

Here’s a photo of one from Wikipedia. Aren’t they lovely?

Oy, do I miss Patagonia and Antarctica:

21 thoughts on “Proprietor’s wildlife photos

  1. Are guanacos the cats among the camels?
    On the map it looks small, but on the photos this park looks huge.

  2. Wow! What spectacular landscape. It looks like no humans could or would want to live there. Just so harsh, cold, and stony. I find myself trying to imagine similar topography elsewhere on the planet. Perhaps the Himalayas.

  3. “‘It has a maximum wingspan of 3.3 m (10 ft 10 in)…'” Wow. That is really neat. The last picture is especially beautiful.

  4. Is there anywhere else on earth with more spectacular looking peaks?!!

    Still trying to convince my wife for us to go to the far south (and the far north) of Chile, despite my recent realization of just how badly the legacy of Pinochet has hung on there. He’d be one of Drumpf’s great heroes were the latter not such an utter ignoramus with respect to history, geography and just about everything else.

    ” I don’t know what index they use to combine weight and wingspan..”

    Naively, with Mass, Distance and Time, if a physics student tried to add two physical objects with units [M1D0T0 and M0D1T0], he/she would likely get kicked out of grad school. Maybe they multiply them, but hopefully not using [tons and millimetres] or with [ounces and lightyears], though I suppose that way isn’t totally ridiculous.

    These contest comparisons get up my nose, even Olympic sports like figure skating and diving. Why can’t people just appreciate the wonders of these things, like large birds, without making it into a contest? I have however often wondered how puny those big Canadian Rockies’ ravens would look if flying next to a condor.

    I’m all over the place once again.

    1. Pondering the 1st question, maybe Lofoten in Norway. Close to the sea in both cases, so peaks need not be exceptionally high.

  5. Despite my tiny cracked screen, I can tell the mountains are breathtaking- the short remark about the observation how the mountains change moment-to-moment is absolutely beautiful – a piece of writing that brings the still photos to life.

  6. If you visit Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory inland from La Serena in northern Chile and have lunch in the canteen (built on a cliff-edge at 7,000 ft), you may, if you are lucky, see condors float by at eye level.

    As an added bonus the night sky is pretty spectacular, too!

  7. Amazing mountains. I like to think that a titan was so in love that he spent his life learning how to sculpt the object of his affection, but by the time he’d finished learning he was old, blind, his mind was gone and he had the shakes…so all he could come up with was this beautiful, confused mess.

  8. Truly wonderful photos.

    I don’t think, myself, that there’s much point in comparing these wonderful mountains with any others. Let’s appreciate them for their own unique qualities. And appreciate the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, the Rockies, the Alps and the South Downs for theirs!

    1. That’s a good point.
      And I’ll have to say ‘touche!’ although you probably are not noticing this:
      Up above in #7, I grumble a bit about making comparisons into contests, having already (sort of) done so myself in comparing mountain scenery.

  9. Beautiful and special animals and stunning landscape. Thank you for the photos and notes. No wonder you still miss the areas visited on your trip.

  10. Love how the mountains look familiar (from the Canadian equivalent) and different, all at once …

    (I guess that’s partially based on MacGyver’s “The Treasure of Manco”, which had BC standing in for Peru.)

  11. Thank you for sharing your photos of TdP. As an undergrad, I was fortunate enough to spend about 8 months living there while working on a guanaco behavior project. I loved waking up to a view of the Torres from my bed. We frequently saw condors, most often while radio tracking the guanacos. We would climb high hills to get the best signal clarity, and the condors, taking advantage of the updrafts along the steep hillsides, would swoop in close! The wind was so strong atop those hills (sometimes it was difficult to stand) – the resistance made the condors sound like jets coming in for a landing.

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